Monday, June 4, 2012

Anti-Rail Candidate Tilts at Windmills, Thinks Bus System Can Conquer Oahu’s Traffic Congestion

There’s a bit of Don Quixote in mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano.
The former governor – like the hero in the Miguel de Cervantes novel – is on a quest, having concluded he’s the right “knight” to lead the city of Honolulu into a new age.
Cervantes’ Don Quixote spends his retirement years reading books on chivalry. So inspired, he sets out as a knight-errant in search of adventure, sees windmills in the distance and mistakes them for “giants.”
“I intend to do battle with them and slay them,” Quixote tells his skeptical attendant. “With their spoils we shall begin to be rich, for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”
Mr. Cayetano retired from public life when his second term as governor ended in 2002. What he’s been reading for the past decade isn’t known, but it’s a sure bet he’s been listening to Cliff Slater.
Mr. Cayetano now believes what Mr. Slater has been telling anyone who would listen for years – that traffic congestion is something that can be solved and defeated if only we applied the right solution.
In July 2010, Mr. Slater’s interview with Civil Beat included this observation: “Traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today.” Mr. Slater has made this his main talking point in his ongoing assault against the Honolulu rail project.
Mr. Cayetano also thinks traffic can be defeated, and with Mr. Slater as his inspiration, the former governor has been using the same rhetoric to oppose rail. 
The Way To Go?
Mr. Cayetano submitted a commentary for the Sunday Star-Advertiser that ran under this headline: STOP! Enhanced bus system, not rail, is the way to go. Here’s his opening:
“Traffic congestion on Oahu is getting worse – but the proposed rail system would not solve the problem. The city and the Federal Transit Administration admit this in their final environmental impact statement, where they write: ‘Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.’ Their EIS shows 21 percent more cars on the road if we build rail and 23 percent more if we do not. This is what the Star-Advertiser calls a traffic ‘solution’?”
With Mr. Slater as his muse, Mr. Cayetano believes congestion is something to be attacked, solved and defeated, and in pursuing this line, they both ignore this fundamental fact:
Congestion is a natural consequence of population growth. Study after study has shown that even adding more highway lanes doesn’t reduce congestion, since as soon as the new “open space” is created, drivers rush in to fill it.
Governments do what they can to smooth the flow of traffic with the kind of tweaks Mr. Cayetano suggests in his commentary, such as synchronizing traffic lights. But nowhere in his commentary does Mr. Cayetano provide evidence that adding more buses to existing congestion can reduce it.
Just the Opposite
Mr. Cayetano wants to implement a bus rapid transit system, which he says would be cheaper than building rail, but that’s where his logic falls apart. Adding more buses to existing congestion can’t possibly “solve” it.
What little we know about Mr. Cayetano’s BRT plan could only make congestion worse. His plan essentially is what the Harris Administration tried to implement a decade ago. That plan failed, as he noted in yesterday's commentary.
“The ‘in-town’ phrase (of Harris’ BRT) originally planned to run on dedicated lanes on Kapiolani and Ala Moana, but was criticized for taking car lanes on those two heavily congested boulevards. Mindful of this criticism, we will review the in-town phase with a focus on using King and Beretania streets instead.”
In other words, Mr. Cayetano wants to remove lane space from two heavily congested streets instead of the two heavily congested boulevards. And this is his update? The result would be the same no matter where he’d implement BRT: Drivers would have fewer lanes available to them on Honolulu thoroughfares, and that in large measure is what killed the Harris plan.
The Rail Alternative
Mr. Cayetano began his quest for the mayor’s office with the mistaken belief that congestion can be defeated. He compounds this fundamental misunderstanding of congestion – a mistake as profound as Quixote’s conviction that windmills were “giants” to be conquered -- by ignoring the obvious: Adding more buses to existing surface-street congestion won’t solve anything. That would only make congestion worse.
The way to “defeat” congestion isn’t by attacking it but by avoiding it. That’s what commuters will do when they use Honolulu rail, the travel option that doesn’t now exist.
Rail will be the congestion-avoiding option that Mr. Slater never can bring himself to acknowledge. Neither can Mr. Cayetano apparently – and so his quest continues to find the right weapon to slay one giant of a traffic problem.


Roy Kamisato said...

Doug, the last Civil Beat poll showed more people were against rail than were in favor of rail. The same poll also showed support for an underwater transmission cable despite an unknown cost which could be in the billions. I believe the reason for this is the very human emotion of "what's in it for me". So what's in it for North Shore, Windward and East Honolulu residents. Anyone following the rail project understands what's in it for them, it's just that they don't understand the reasons. Want rail to regain it's former popularity, then a clear message must be developed to make them see the light.

Roy Kamisato said...

Ben Cayetano has given the pro-rail side a gift. As you mentioned his BRT proposal will make traffic worse. It will specifically make traffic congestion worse for Windward and East Honolulu residents traveling to town. This is a reason for them to oppose Ben's BRT. This is a simple message anyone can understand. This is part of what's in it for them.